Continuing to trace the rainbow – Why I’m talking about mental health and why it matters

This morning I got the opportunity to talk to a group of about 60 who are here in Birmingham to take part in the Commonwealth Games outreach. The team are from Firestarters UK and consist mainly of teens from Scotland and Wales. It’s been great to see these young people taking steps to share their faith over the past few days.

Whilst I’ve written about depression and anxiety here on Faithroots as well as for Grace in the Depths and for the book a few of us wrote called “The Pastor with a Thorn in his side”  and whilst I’ve also recorded some videos and podcasts, this is the first time I’ve actually shared my story in person to a group of people -though I’ve alluded to it a little in sermons.

To re-cap, my story focuses in on a day in November 2019. I’d been busy that morning, speaking at two morning services and then afterwards, I’d sat a couple of people down for a pastoral conversation.  Immediately after the conversation, one of the people said to me “Are you okay, you look upset.”  I had not realised until that point that I felt upset and nor was I used to people pastoring me. I was the one who did the looking after. But as they said this, deep sadness welled up inside me and although I assured them I was fine, as soon as they left the room, I found myself in floods of tears.

I had a desperate desire to escape and not to come back. I could not face going on as a pastor. In my mind I was a failure. In fact, whilst I know friends who have struggled with suicidal thoughts, I’ve never seriously considered taking my own life but instead that desire to escape, to keep running and not be found was a recurring urge I experienced. 

The next day I went to see the doctor.  She asked me “What is the problem” and I started to speak but couldn’t because I was crying again. I managed to choke out the word “this.” She diagnosed anxiety and depression, prescribed sertraline -an anti-depressant and insisted that she signed me off work. I protested a little “I have a funeral to take this Friday.”

“No.” she insisted “You need to rest. It’s okay you seeking to care for other people. But who looks after you?”  And so I found myself at home, alternating between tears and a feeling of exhaustion, unable to move off the sofa. My usually active brain had stopped working.  At the most banal I found myself watching US sitcoms.  Modern Family works best on sertraline!  I normally love to study but I couldn’t. But, I could read the Psalms, I could talk to God as father and friend. I could listen to worship songs. And there in the depths I rediscovered again God’s grace and love to me as his child.

So, why am talking about depression and anxiety?  Well, here are a few reasons.

  1. Because so many people end up suffer in silence. We’ve given the impression that this is a taboo subject. We’ve taught people that there is something shameful in it.  So a few of us as pastors are talking about our own experience because we want you to know that yes, pastors, missionaries, church planters suffer with depression. This is not something that marks you out as unspiritual or lacking in faith. So I want you to know that you can talk about it.
  2. Because if you were suffering from other health issues, if you were sick or injured, you’d see a doctor, you’d get treatment, you’d take medication and everyone would be okay with that. We want you to know that it’s okay to get medical help for depression too.
  3. Because God often uses our suffering to teach us, to discipline us to help us to grow.  In my case, I realised that I’d allowed myself to become overwhelmed by attempting to be the lightening rod for trouble and to try to be the mediator who absorbed the conflict of others. Jesus spoke to me and reminded me that he alone is the mediator.  As I said before, it was grace rediscovered. 

Often God’s grace is experienced so vividly in the mist of suffering. Often life is bitter-sweet.  I keep coming back to the lyrics of an older hymn “Oh love that will not let me go”  and the lyric “I trace the rainbow through the rain.”

The Firestarters team have made their theme this week about sharing joy.  This is an important theme.  But even as we seek to share joy, sometimes some of us find that our experience of joy is just that we “trace the rainbow through the rain.” 

I, and the others involved with “Grace in the Depths” want to let you know that this is okay. In fact, it’s good.

If you would like to talk to someone, please either get in touch via the contact form below, or have a look at Grace in the Depths

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